On February 8, 2016

Vermont Health Connect backlog persists after Jan. 31 deadline

By Erin Mansfield, VTDigger.org

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s health care reform team told the House Health Care Committee on Thursday, Jan. 28, about bigger challenges with Vermont Health Connect than were previously reported.

Lawrence Miller, the chief of health care reform, said the number of changes to customer accounts waiting to be handled by the state’s health insurance exchange peaked at 5,700 on Jan. 25. Miller characterized the 5,700 pending changes of circumstance as an “inventory,” instead of a “backlog,” which has been the term of choice for the governor, lawmakers and other stakeholders over the past year to describe the problem.

The Shumlin administration provided the new numbers at the request of the House Health Care Committee, which has decided to bring Shumlin’s health care reform team in to testify at an indefinite number of weekly hearings to determine whether the state should move to the federal exchange.

The administration reported in November that 32,761 people were enrolled in commercial health insurance through Vermont Health Connect. At the Thursday hearing, the administration said the number is fewer than 30,000. Blue Cross continues to insure about 90 percent of those people, and MVP Health Care, a New York-based company, insures the rest.

By signing up for health coverage, those who previously did not have insurance will avoid having to pay the individual shared responsibility fee when they file their federal taxes. This federal fee for not having health insurance increases in 2016 and the typical uninsured individual will pay $695 when they file their taxes in spring 2017, according to a press release from Department of Vermont Health Access. Those with higher than average incomes will pay more of a penalty– 2.5 percent of their household income above the filing threshold – and could have to pay for all of their own health care costs on top of that.

Some uninsured individuals and families will even find that it’s cheaper to buy a basic health plan than to pay the fee, the release explained. A couple earning $40,000, for example, could find a basic couple plan on Vermont Health Connect for less than $50 per month, or $600 for the year. If they don’t get insurance, however, they could pay a federal fee of nearly $1,400.

Vermont Health Connect’s Plan Comparison Tool has attracted over 10,000 visits in the last six weeks, showing customers the financial help they qualify for and helping them estimate the out-of-pocket costs of various plan options.

Additionally, over the last several months, the administration has been moving about 143,000 Medicaid patients over to the exchange.

Miller said the state has begun to contact 10,000 households a month that have at least one person enrolled in a form of Medicaid in order to renew and revise their coverage. He said it would be a long time before the state has a statistically significant estimate of how many people were on Medicaid who shouldn’t have been.

Miller said many of the bumps experienced this year during open enrollment happened when his team had to turn off the online change of circumstance function because a piece of software code that the vendor Exeter Group gave the state was not ready to be deployed by Dec. 31. The company went out of business “literally overnight” in October, his team said.

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